Monday, September 13, 2010

Locanda del Pilone (Alba in Piedmont)

June 2009

Loc. Madonna di Como, 34 - 12051 Alba CN, Piedmont
Tel: +39 173 366609

Update: The chef at Pilone has changed since we dined there in 2009. The 2 Michelin Star restaurant Villa Crespi took over Pilone and installed one of its chefs to run the kitchen there. As as result, the restaurant regained the 1-Michelin star in 2011 which it lost when the previous chef left.

Locanda del Pilone is a 1-Michelin star restaurant in the hills in Alba. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and it was a real pain to find our way there. Our GPS failed us miserably as it led us to drive through some unmarked roads only to end up in a barn and scaring some poor old lady who was taking a nap on her chair by the barn. After that, we decided to do the logical thing and call our hotel, and the concierge managed to direct us there over the phone. It turns out that the restaurant, being on top of the hill, had it's mail box located at the bottom of the hill (right next to the barn) but there was no way for our car to get up the hill without making an almighty detour through the town, hence our GPS got confused.

The restaurant is situated in a converted barn, and has its own B&B (ideal for people coming from afar to eat at the restaurant and staying the night). The views of the vineyards below are spectacular, unfortunately, as we got there, it was already getting dark, so we did not get to enjoy the views during dinner.

We were warmly greeted and shown to our seat in a rustic dining room next to a brick chimney. The maitre d' spoke good english and was a real hoot throughout the whole evening. The restaurant had an excellent wine list and we picked out a wonderful 2004 Paolo Scarvino Barolo.

After some prosecco and amuse bouche, we started with an egg creation; a fried egg, poached egg and egg yolk with some greens. It was a lovely way to start the meal.

This was followed by breaded sardines, which was an interesting way to cook the fish, and this was very good as well. We learnt that the young chef was from Venice and hence specialised in cooking seafood.

Then we had a chicken breast with foie gras in a lobster emulsion. This was tasty enough without being fantastic.

The next dish was quite disappointing (in comparison with the other dishes); it was a spinach and cheese ravioli and pasta dish. This dish served to fill us up unnecessarily without being particularly delicious.

The next pasta dish was superb though, it was a simple carbonara with pasta done al dente, good texture and complementary flavours. 

And the main course was a delightful breaded veal cutlet which was cooked to perfection.

Dessert was a real surprise and was really nostalgic for us. There were a few innovative creations here; the second from the left being a raspberry yolk (covered with a thin membrane) which broke easily in the mouth releasing the fruity flavours; the middle one being a sugar-cameralised piece of grapefruit (the sourness of the grapefruit was countered by the sweetness of the sugar - it reminded us of how we used to eat grapefruit when we were young, sprinkling sugar on the grapefruit); and the piece de resistance was the sorbet which, when you put in your mouth, starts crackling loudly, like mini explosions in your mouth (this also took us back to our childhood when we loved eating such crackling sweets - we have not come across such sweets since then).

Petit fours were also masterful, with which we capped off a very good meal. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and with the exception of the chicken and ravioli dishes which were ordinary, the rest of dinner (and the wine) was most enjoyable.

At the end of dinner, the chef came out to greet us. He didn't speak any english, but the english-speaking the maitre d' asked how I thought the dinner was, to which I responded most positively. However, the playful maitre d' he kept pestering me for some 'constructive criticism' so that they could improve, and so, with my good sense having abandoned me after a few glasses of prosecco and a bottle of wine, I told him that "actually, if there is one flaw, then it would have been the ravioli dish which I thought was quite pointless, since it was followed by another pasta dish. Instead, a fish or shellfish would be more appropriate".

The maitre d' duly translated for the chef, who then looked absolutely dismayed! I felt so bad as he looked so inconsolable and my attempts to appease him did not seem to work. So we hastily made our leave, to the mirth of the maitre d', who assured us that the chef "could take it".

In all seriousness, it was an excellent meal (at what I must say is a very reasonable price) and any negative impression on our part would have been undeserved by the chef. For all we know, the mischievous maitre d' probably told the chef that we were from Michelin and that we said that his food sucked and we were going to take his star away from him!

Final Thoughts: The food was innovative with very good use of basic ingredients (did not try to wow us with fancy or expensive ingredients but kept faith with his cooking technique); a very good young chef with lots of potential. The wine list was impressive and was also reasonably priced (which is to be expected in such a countryside restaurant. The restaurant itself was warm, cosy and comfortable, must like a countryside inn. But best of all was the service that night, as it was attentive, friendly and entertaining.

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